The bright lights of the cheese counter has always enthralled me, calling to me like a beacon. Even now, older and much wiser, I still find myself drawn to the refridger-aires sitting like islands upon the laminated supermarket floors.
My eyes scan the offerings: Walnut encrusted gobs of fluroescent orange cheese-balls, creamed cheese products disguised as culinary vices, and huge blocks of vacuum-packed colby cheese (often best left in the wrapper). But I never wince in disapointment at these choices, for I know that maybe one day there’ll be a surprise hidden amongst this dairy detritus.
Like the one day that they had Morbier cut from wheels, displayed in the suffocating plastic wrap that is the bane of all those who truly love their cheeses. I recall bringing the cheese home with a feeling of giddiness. I unwrapped it and stared at it intently, affectionately, wonderin g what would be in store for me as it matured.
To me, the best cheese let you know what you’re getting yourself into before you take a knife to it. The Morbier held an aroma similar to a glass of cream that had been sitting out of refrigeration for only ten minutes. I picked the cheese amazed, as always, by the fact that I am holding milk in my hand. I think back to the wanderer who accidentally discovered the cheese making process. He undoubtedly tossed the cheese curd aside, thinking it spoilt. I then imagine the joy of the other wanderer, discovering the same cheese and putting his stomach on the line simply to see if it was edible. His teeth softly cutting through the curds, releasing its creaminess upon the palate.
What draws us to cheese? For me, the variety holds me dear. From the stringy milkiness of a fresh buffalo Mozzarella, to the delicate crunch of the crystals found in the sharp meat of a high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheese offers variety, not just in taste, but also in the way it feels in the mouth. Let’s not forget the way it holds the tongue. Sometimes the cheese slightly liquifies upon the tongue coating it with its flavors, be it the sharpness of a blue cheese, or the tangy-creaminess of a good Camembert cheese.
The best cheese, regardless of variety, let’s you in on the dietary habits of the animal from whence it came. The day you can tell the difference between grass-fed cow’s milk cheese and hay-fed cow’s milk cheese is a day you’ll never forget.
So although I detest a great majority of the supermarket, the cheese counter is the one place where I try to withold too much judgement. Because somedays, it pays off. Recently, the nationally known place down the street has started selling cheese without plastic wrap. Color me a very happy person.